Archive for Sunday, February 2, 1992

KU PROFESSORS DIFFER OVER CHOICES FOR AG

February 2, 1992

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Pressure is building for Kansas Atty. Gen. Bob Stephan to resign from office following a federal grand jury's indictment of him, a Kansas University faculty member says.

However, another KU professor who studies state government says Stephan has no choice but to stay in office because the attorney general's options for plea bargaining could be severly weakened if he resigned.

Stephan was indicted Wednesday by a Kansas City, Kan., federal grand jury on two counts of perjury and one count of conspiracy to commit perjury.

The charges stem from allegations that the attorney general lied to a federal grand jury in 1988 during a breach of contract lawsuit. He told the jury he did not know the 1985 settlement of a sexual harassment lawsuit brought against him in 1982 was supposed to be kept secret.

STEPHAN has told reporters he has no plans to resign his office. However, Fred Phelps Sr., a Topeka minister, has announced he soon will begin a statewide petition campaign to oust Stephan from the job he has held for 13 years.

"It keeps the drumbeat of pressure on," said Burdett Loomis, a KU political science professor. "I think Stephan will really get beat down on by this. He's a survivor. He's proven to be very resilient in the past. The question is, can he survive these circumstances?"

Loomis said Stephan has "a huge political problem here."

"He's got to make a bunch of decisions," Loomis said. "This is a very serious charge for the chief law enforcement officer of the state. He's the only one who can judge the political pressure on him. . . . I think he'll try to hang tough."

RUSSELL GETTER, a KU associate professor of political science, agreed that the pressure on Stephan to resign is mounting. But Stephan's only option is to stay put, Getter said.

"He doesn't have any choice, except to see it through," Getter said. "If he resigns, he doesn't have anything to bargain with."

Getter said Stephan soon would get the opportunity to see what kind of evidence prosecutors have against him. Stephan's first court appearance is set for Thursday, and a preliminary hearing eventually will follow.

"On the basis of that, he will make a decision whether he will plea bargain with the prosecuting attorney, or whether he will stand trial, or what he will do," Getter said. "Stephan and his attorneys will have the opportunity to understand what that evidence is long before any of us in the general public knows what that evidence is."

Meanwhile, Getter said he didn't think legislative or partisan leaders would ask Stephan to resign.

"I DON'T think anyone outside of a few people . . . will ask him to resign before it's determined that he is guilty," Getter said. "Kansas has a procedure for recalling officials, but it is a very, very arduous procedure."

Getter said a plea bargaining process would be purely informal.

He said it would be similar to what happenned in 1973 when former Vice President Spiro Agnew faced charges of tax evasion on payments made to him by contractors when he was Maryland's governor. Agnew resigned after pleading no contest.

"In exchange, he was not sent to prison," Getter said.

Getter said Stephan could "threaten to stay in office until the prosecuting attorney offers him that kind of an arrangement."

IF CONVICTED of the charges, Stephan could be sentenced to 15 years in prison and fined $750,000.

Getter predicted that if Stephan stepped down, Gov. Joan Finney would appoint Democrat Bert Cantwell to the office. Cantwell lost a close race to Stephan in 1990.

Although former Lt. Gov. Robert Docking has been named as a possible choice for the job, Getter said Finney would have trouble explaining why she did not choose Cantwell.

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